Well, Red Sox fans, this is how we know we've been spoiled over the course of this incredible season: it's late August when the team is having its first real bout of adversity and there's a lot of hand wringing across Red Sox Nation. The Sox looked terrible when they dropped the series opener to Tampa on Friday, but surely they'd rebound and storm back in the second game, right? Especially with Rick Porcello on the mound, it seemed that they were ready to right the ship and get back on the winning track. However, Tampa has been hot lately and unfortunately they continued their great play on Saturday night.
Unlike the first game, the Sox got on the board early in this one. They were threatening in the second inning with runners at the corners and no outs and seemed poised to blow the game open, but Mitch Moreland hit into a double play to kill the rally.JD Martinez was able to score from third, but that lone run would be all Boston would score all night. Porcello was not sharp in this game, but he was grinding out innings and seemingly leading a charmed life by repeatedly getting out of trouble unscathed (including one inning where he loaded the bases with no outs). In the bottom of the fourth, Brandon Lowe drove in a run to tie the game, but that was all Tampa got that inning. After gutting his way through five innings, it was more than a little surprising when Alex Cora sent Porcello out to start the sixth inning and I'm sure he regrets that decision now. Porcello put runners on the corners by giving up a leadoff triple (to the badly slumping Kevin Kiermaier) and hitting a batter before leaving the game. That proved to be too much for Ryan Brasier to inherit and overcome. Brasier allowed a run via a wild pitch and then gave up a sacrifice fly to Joey Wendle.
The game was still in reach at 3-1 heading into the seventh, but Brandon Workman surrendered a solo home run to Tommy Pham to make it 4-1 and Tyler Thornburg (who has never looked truly good in a Red Sox uniform) gave up another whenJi-Man Choi's triple drove in the final Tampa run. The fact that Choi had looked awful and went 0-3 to that point only added insult to injury. With every appearance, Thornburg reminds Red Sox fans that the team got absolutely swindled on the trade that brought him here in exchange for Travis Shaw. A late Red Sox threat was obliterated when Andrew Benintendi got picked off of first base...it was just that kind of game. The Sox went down to a 5-1 loss and with the Yankees sweeping their doubleheader with Baltimore (huh, I guess they can beat bad teams once in a while) the division lead was shaved down to seven games.
There was a lot about this game that was ugly and in fact, the Sox are playing some bad baseball lately. They've now lost five of their last seven games and apart for those two wins against Cleveland, they've really been struggling to score runs recently. They've been shut down by some real no-name pitchers and haven't been able to take advantage of poor outings by good pitchers (see: Corey Kluber in the first Cleveland game). Mookie Betts has been slumping badly, going hitless again and letting his average dip below JD Martinez (who now leads the American League in RBI and average and is one home run off the lead) and he hasn't hit a home run since early in the month. The only Sox players who had hits in this game were JD and Eduardo Nunez (each with two) and Xander Bogaerts (with one).
Overall, the team has been looking a bit worn down and like they're pressing at the plate. Porcello is also a bit of a concern, having not looked particularly sharp since his gem against the Yankees in early August. He's won some games since then but they've all been a shaky and his last few starts have not been good at all. Things won't get any easier when the Sox have to go up against Blake Snell in the series finale Sunday afternoon. This series was the first one the team has lost since late June and there's a real danger they'll get swept if they don't get to Snell early and score enough runs to support Nathan Eovaldi (another guy who hasn't looked good over the last few weeks).
The Red Sox are still in great shape and it's better to get this slump out of the way now instead of dealing with it in October, but it's not exactly how you want to see them heading into the final month of the season. They've got a couple of series against bad teams (Miami and the White Sox) coming up before it gets tougher again. Atlanta, Houston, the Yankees (twice), and Cleveland all loom large in the final weeks so they really need to take advantage of games against non-playoff teams. The Yankees seem to be shaking out of their funk and it would be bad timing if the Sox started to sink into one of their own right now.